Friday, March 22, 2013

The Pagan Holiday of Easter

A Lutheran minister on the radio expressed the wish that Easter have a fixed date like Christmas. That's not possible, he said, because no one knows the date of Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb. That’s a foolish statement, of course, since no one knows the exact date of His birth either. We do know it wasn’t December 25th, the date on which the world celebrates Christmas.

For a long time, I was convinced that Jesus died on the cross on a Friday and that Good Friday was one of the few dates on the calendar with a genuine significance for Christians. After all, Scripture tells us that His body, and those of the criminals crucified beside Him, had to be taken down before the start of the Sabbath which begins Friday at sundown. I have since learned that there are some questions about that belief. Jesus’ body was removed from the cross prior to the yearly Sabbath, but I wonder if those who promote that theory possess more accurate information than those who accept the view that I’ve long held.

Does it matter?

If the date of Jesus’ death and resurrection were really significant, the Bible would clearly report them, as it would also report the date of His birth. It’s certainly no surprise that Easter has no connection to Jesus, and its practices are rooted in paganism. Holidays or Holy Days, a booklet from the United Church of God, reports that many Easter customs pre-date Christianity and honor various false idols, such as Ashtoreth, goddess of spring and fertility whom the bible calls “the abomination of the Sidonians.” The Easter bunny and the eggs that compete with religious imagery as symbols of the season are representatives of fertility and the return of spring.

Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs notes that fertility rites and customs began to be interwoven with religion soon after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Having rejected God, humanity needed to find alternative explanations for the beginning of life. Man created his own gods and found them in forces of nature. “The pagan nations made statues or images to represent the powers they worshiped,” reports Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. These idols included men and animals, such as the owl that the elites worship at Bohemian Grove, but also the sun, the moon, the stars, and even the sea and rain. “Many pagan cultures believed that the god of fertility died each year during the winter but was reborn each year in spring.”

Jewish people continue to celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday, but Catholics and most professing (if not always practicing) Christians choose Sunday as the day to attend religious services and to take a rest from work. But Sunday celebrates the sun, yet another pagan deity. According to R.K. Bishop, anti-Jewish sentiment may have played a role in the rejection of Saturday as the Sabbath day, and the embracing of Easter in place of Passover in commemorating the death of Jesus Christ.

Prior to A.D. 70, the Roman government regarded Christianity as a “branch of the Jewish religion,” Jesse Lyman Hurlbut says in The Story of the Christian Church. Following two Jewish revolts against the Roman Empire, however, Jews faced persecution, and their religious practices were suppressed. Many Christians responded to this persecution by abandoning any customs or practices connected to Judaism and replacing them with pagan practices of which the Romans approved. So, Easter took the place of Passover for Christians wishing to celebrate the resurrection, and Sunday became the Sabbath.

Celebrating the resurrection was itself a new concept, according to Holidays or Holy Days which states that Scripture (I Corinthians 11:26) encourages Christians only to remember the death of Jesus. The resurrection gives us hope that we, too, will one day be resurrected, and was necessary in completing God’s mission, but it was His persecution and death that demonstrated God’s love and willingness to forgive mankind.

It may not be important to know the dates of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, but the belief that he died on a Friday and rose from the grave on Sunday is not supported by Scripture where, in Matthew 12:38, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees that He would be “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” If He was crucified on Friday and rose from the tomb on Sunday, He would have spent one complete day and no more than two nights in the grave. It’s a serious matter because Jesus’ statement about the amount of time He would be “in the heart of the earth” was a prophecy, the fulfillment of which proved He was the Messiah.

Holidays or Holy Days presents a chronology of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in which they state that Jesus shared a Passover meal with His disciples (The Last Supper) on a Tuesday evening. Following the meal, He was betrayed by Judas, arrested and brought before the high priest. He died on the cross on Wednesday at 3 p.m., and was entombed before sunset. He rose from the dead near sunset on Saturday, three days and three nights after His burial.

The choice of Easter Sunday as the day to celebrate the resurrection helped Christians to distance themselves from the Jews, and also fit in well with the theme of rebirth and fertility that was central to pagan beliefs, but Easter, like Christmas, is not truly Christian, and should be celebrated with caution by true believers.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


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